Mass surveillance is protected by law – US law. That means that to stop it, the laws in the US must be changed, something that will also benefit all privacy-loving peoples of the world who are not protected from intrusion by US law.
Though it is fashionable to think so, mass surveillance isn’t a creation of the last few years, or even since 9/11. No, it has its roots firmly entrenched in presidential Executive Order 12333 signed back in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan. With the stroke of the pen, the genie was let out of the bottle, which morphed into the mass surveillance hysteria post 9/11.
Executive Order 12333 is the primary authority that the NSA uses to conduct its surveillance operations – including mass surveillance programs overseas. The good news is that, since it was initiated by presidential signature, it can be revoked by the same. Great pressure is therefore being brought to bear on President Obama to revoke the order, and thereby protect privacy rights of people worldwide.
From this humble beginning the morass of spying has evolved. Myriad laws have been enacted, most notable the Patriot Act after 9/11. The good news is that the law comes up for renewal this summer, as does the prospect for its demise or diminution by some courageous lawmakers.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has weighed in frequently on the matter, and recently has published a game plan for ending global mass communications surveillance. This will not be an overnight campaign, but rather a multi-year effort that encompasses many entities, tools and facets.
It is hoped that its efforts will be combined with public pressure from US constituents to exact legislative changes that will reverse the NSA policy of “collect it all, tag it and store…And whatever it is you want, you go searching for it,” espoused by former NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander.
While it is popular to target the NSA for its surveillance abuses, the EFF is quick to point out that many other countries and regimes around the world hunger for similar surveillance policies – from the biggest to the smallest countries – and they don’t share their data with the NSA or anyone. And as a result, innocent civilians worldwide are ensnared in the spying web, albeit inadvertently. But make no mistake, the NSA is the largest transgressor.
The EFF game plan
1. Pressure technology companies to stiffen their systems against NSA surveillance
In many instances, companies are too compliant with the NSA in allowing access to personal information. In this regard, AT&T is the biggest culprit according to the EFF, although other companies have weakened or enabled their systems to be NSA compliant. Documents and evidence obtained from whistle-blowers imply that many companies are “in bed” with the NSA.
Companies therefore are in the best position to know about surveillance requests that are kept secret from the press (and therefore the public ),and they spend millions of dollars to lobby congress on legislative changes. In addition to approaching the problem from a legal angle, these companies must rollout stronger encryption software.
2. Create a global movement that encourages user-side encryption
This can quite easily be initiated, and is a powerful way to make mass surveillance significantly more difficult. To this end, the EFF has created a Surveillance Self- Defense system in several languages.
3. Encourage the creation of secure communication tools that are easier to use
Let’s face it, some people are more tech-savvy than others, but everyone should enjoy freedom from surveillance. The EFF therefore encourages the development of user-friendly technology and the adoption of best business practices.
4. Reform Executive Order 12333
This simply requires President Obama’s cooperation. After all, didn’t he promise a more transparent government and an end to intrusive assaults on freedoms?
5.Employ scholars and experts from around the Globe
These experts and academics wrote the Thirteen Principles even before Edward Snowden’s revelations, which have been endorsed by more than 400 NGOs and 350,000 individuals worldwide, plus the UN. Also known as the Application of Human Rights to Communication Surveillance, the 13 Principles give politicians and activists the context for why mass surveillance is a violation of established human rights law, and make it clear that the path of the Five Eyes Countries is the wrong way forward in that it is unnecessary and disproportionate.
6.Cultivate partners worldwide who can champion surveillance reform locally
In certain locales, the battle is politically and socially more difficult than others – especially where a culture of fear is pervasive. Hence, if you are anti-surveillance you are portrayed as pro-pedophilia or pro-terrorist. In some countries the mere hint of advocating a freedom debate can result in jail time or worse. Therefore ,it is of utmost importance to establish a bottom-up counter-surveillance climate.
7. Bring transparency to surveillance laws and practices
We need whistle blowers and the type of information that can be gleaned from the Freedom of Information Act. We need a full picture, and knowledge of the scope of the surveillance nightmare.
The EFF wants to point out that they’re up against more than just a few elements in the American administration, but more a tidal wave of an assault on privacy comprised of spooks, government types, and corporate types alike – all with their fingers in the pie, and protecting their own interests.
But who looks out for the average person? Fortunately, outfits like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have got your back. You can help by mounting a challenge to the continuation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which comes up for renewal in a few months.
One of the best ways to end mass surveillance by the NSA is to change the US law – making warrantless surveillance illegal. Another potential roadblock to surveillance is through the budgetary process, so lobby your representative for privacy oriented laws.
It’s not an easy task, but reform can come about using the checks and balances inherent in the system. Make your voice heard. Chances are in this polarized political climate with an election cycle in the not too distant future, and the reform movement spearheaded by the efforts of organizations like the EFF, meaningful change can come about.